A couple years after I separated from the military, a retired chief at my local The American Legion post told me I should look into filing an increase on one of my disabilities. At that time, my disability was causing me increased pain and she was concerned I was not being compensated appropriately.
At first I ignored her, but with more prompting I went onto VA’s website and searched for the form to file an increase on my disability compensation. Finding none, I went back to the chief and she found me a local service officer who wrote on a piece of paper that I wanted to file an increase for my service-connected disability, put it in an envelope, and dropped it in the mail.
I was stunned. For weeks, I had searched for a form that did not exist.
Shortly after that, I started working for a Veterans service organization helping other Veterans appeal their claims. Like the service officer who had helped me, I would advise Veterans to write what they were appealing on a piece of paper and mail it in. Many of them found it confusing.
“What do I write?” they would ask. Or, “There’s really no form?” Or my favorite, “Even the DMV requires me to fill out a form for a driver’s license.”
The confusion Veterans, their families and survivors felt in the claims process was a major reason why I came to work at VA in 2011. I had ideas and wanted to be a part of the change to help Veterans like myself and husband. More importantly, I wanted to communicate those changes to you.
Nearly four years later, I am amazed at the changes that have occurred. For instance, Veterans no longer have to drop their claims in the mail and can instead file online, our claims processors can now work your claim from start to finish electronically and Veterans can automatically add dependents online. And starting today, we are making it easier to file a claim. By using standardized forms – much like applying for a driver’s license – you won’t have to wonder which form to use, or which one is best for you. There is now only one form for filing each benefit – compensation, pension and dependency indemnity compensation and one form for submitting an appeal for a compensation claim.
Here are two major changes we want you to know:
First, when you file a claim, you must use one of these forms:
- Veterans filing compensation claims should still use eBenefits. It continues to be the fastest and easiest way to file a claim for compensation. In fact, the form is already built into the system.
- If you prefer not to file online you must complete and submit VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits, to VA
- Wartime Veterans filing pension claims must complete and mail VA Form 21-527EZ, Application for Pension
- Survivors filing for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), survivors pension, and accrued benefits must be filed on VA Form 21-534EZ, Application for DIC, Death Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits
Second, if you plan on appealing your claim’s decision, VA will provide you an easy-to-understand form that allows VA to quickly determine why you disagree with the decision. This is called the Standard Notice of Disagreement, or VA Form 21-0958. If you receive a compensation decision on or after March 24, you will have to use this form if you want to appeal. Those wanting to appeal pension and survivors benefits are not required to use the standard NOD at this time.
But wait, those forms aren’t new!
You’re right. VA has used these forms for years, but they were optional. In that time, we’ve seen how use of these forms has gone a long way in removing confusion and easing processing delays in the claims process.
Finally, for Veterans and survivors who want to file a claim, but need more time to gather information, we’ve standardized what used to be known as an informal claim by using a new intent to file a claim process. This basically means you or your representative can submit information, including what general benefit type you are seeking (i.e., compensation, pension, or survivors benefits) to preserve an effective date for benefits while you take up to one year to gather the evidence necessary to support your claim and complete the required application form. This process is completely optional. If you already have the information you need to file a formal claim, you should file the formal claim instead of using the intent to file a claim process.
The Intent to File may be submitted in one of four ways:
- Through your accredited Veterans Service Organization, which can submit it electronically on your behalf
- Electronically via eBenefits by initiating and completing the personal information page, and saving (but not submitting) the application
- Completing and mailing the paper VA Form 21-0966, Intent to File a Claim for Compensation and/or Pension, or Survivors Pension and/or DIC to VA
- Informing a VA call center representative over the phone or a public contact representative in person at a VA regional office
This change allows VA to award increased benefits retroactive to the date of medical treatment as long as you submit your intent to file within one year of your treatment and the required claim form is filed within the same year as your intent to file.
There’s still more work to do, and we have more ideas, but everyday we’re working hard to improve your experience at VA. These forms will help take out the guess work so many of you, me included, have experienced.
Editor’s note: Still have questions? Visit explore.va.gov for more information on using standard forms to file a claim.
Cat Trombley is a public affairs specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration. Prior to working for VA, she was an assistant director at a Veteran service organization and represented Veterans before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. She is also an Air Force Veteran and married to a Marine Corps Veteran.